Timmy Failure movie review — Disney+ weaves a charming pick-me-up tale to celebrate power of imagination
Spotlight-fame Tom McCarthy turns his camera to explore the antics of an 11-year-old detective with Disney+ Original Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made comes at a time when we certainly need a break from the gloominess of the world. Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2020, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is exactly the kind of polished, clever, and glossy kid-targeted adventure I would pick to watch while the gushes of cabin fever from the lockdown get to me.
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Based on the books by Stephan Pastis, the Disney+ Original marks director Tom McCarthy's return after 2015 Best Picture Oscar-winner Spotlight. The film is a charming and dotingly assembled curio which explores how kids use their imagination as a buffer against the hardships of growing up, sometimes in ways that is funny and heartfelt.
Timmy Failure centers on an 11-year-old boy of the same name (the surname was not always spelled that way), who is convinced, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that he is the best detective in the city of Portland. Out on the streets with his best friend and unreliable business partner, an imaginary 1,500-pound polar bear named Total, Timmy sets out to solve a number of low-key crimes he has made up in his own mind, learning along the way a few key lessons about growing up.
Winslow Fegley plays Timmy, who fancied himself a pint-sized private eye from an early age, establishing his own self-styled agency with stern dedication and a battered old dictaphone, against the growing concerns of his single mother Patty (Ophelia Lovibond). However, Timmy ’s gumshoe adventures have a habit of getting him into trouble, especially since he tends to view everyone — his classmates, his teacher, his guidance counselor (Craig Robinson), and his mom’s new boyfriend — with suspicion.
McCarthy shows a surprising amount of style to what was certainly a mid-budget affair, letting his camera be as playful as the script. There are shades of Wes Anderson whimsy to the film, such as symmetrical shots of graffiti, a climactic chase sequence within the turbines of dams, and a walled painting that reads, 'Long live the wildcards, misfits, and dabblers' as Timmy with his trusted-red scarf sets out to investigate the case of his mom's missing Segway.
The voice over narration is G-rated gumshoe monologue-ing, and the film is constructed like a conventional hard-boiled detective movie. Timmy does not say “Yes;” he says, “Affirmative.” He does not say “I’m sorry;” he says, “Mistakes were made.”
The major part of Timmy Failure's success is its commitment to the sensitive portrayal of our hero's absurdities and deadpan humour. It is not quite a Sherlock Holmes-level whodunit but grounds the fantasy in a plausible reality. McCarthy and Pastis (who wrote the script together) skillfully makes us realise that Timmy’s imagination, while odd and hilarious, is also his defense mechanism.
The suggestion his father’s departure years earlier triggered his retreat into detective agency role-play is subtle. His refusal to engage with her mother's date, unwillingness to continue formal education, and referring fellow classmates as 'The Nameless One' soon follow into cheerier self-help lessons courtesy Robinson’s kind school counselor. However, beneath Timmy's 'no-care' attitude, lies emotional depth and intelligence, and readiness to adapt even if it means moving to sixth grade.
Timmy Failure is a total gem, the kind of film that is a warm and rewarding experience. One will effortlessly embrace this rebellious oddball, his fanciful world, and relatable anxieties. Hence, it might be made for younger audiences but is never too late to celebrate one's whimsical imagination, even if means the idea of having a polar bear as a Watson to your Sherlock, or Hobbes to your Calvin.
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